I was asked recently to speak to a bunch of students about the nexus of literature and spirituality. I thought about it and actually developed a couple of ideas. Then no students signed up for the workshop so I was at once, relieved and burdened. While I avoided the need to speak in front of a group of students, I now had all these thoughts whirling in my head. Notice, I was not at all concerned that my speech inspired absolutely no interest from students. I'm used to that. I'm a teacher.
But I was thinking about the whole question and so I figured, if I want no one to hear it, I might as well blog about it. Privacy is at a premium and it is nice to know that I have a small, very private corner of the internet where I can rant or pontificate.
My first reaction was that by reading we often open ourselves up to other paths to the divine. We look beyond the individual and into the life of the words and we let them touch us in a way that is uniquely personal and internal. We read when we are alone and the author cannot judge us. We read in our heads and fill ourselves up with ideas without appearing any different. Donne's Holy Sonnets and Adams' The Long Dark Tea Time of the Soul both force the reader to ask questions and come to terms with perspectives. They explore avenues towards the infinite, captured and frozen and retold form a particular angle. Knowing how to read a text in the secular world informs our interaction with religious text. Rhyme and meter, often the anchors of the secular poem, is present in religious writing. Historical content, allusion, figures of speech etc are all part of good writing and literary analysis and help us see beyond the surface when experiencing liturgy or religious canon.
Then I thought about the activity of writing as well. As much as reading is a solitary and private activity, writing is even more. Writing is about crafting your own path to God, and that, dear reader, is scary. Reading gives you an anchor. You work your way into a text and float from idea to idea. Writing dumps you right into the middle of an ocean and you have to create your own anchor. You even have to make your own ocean. You have to create a universe. You have to be a god on a small scale, and your universe will succeed or fall based on you. And through this responsibility one can begin to have a percentage of an inkling of the divine. This is also scary. The idea that your writing represents you, alone, is scary. Facing the notion that you have to have something to say and you have to say it is daunting. You can't rely on others or else your writing ends up being a review, a rehashing, a recap of stale thoughts. New writing means that you stand up and come to terms with who you are and what you have to add to the body of knowledge and understanding in the word.
Like in prayer, we stand alone. We don't wait for God to write our name in a book of life or death. We have to face the task of writing our own fate for God through our expression of who it is we are on the deepest level. When we pray, we open up our hearts and express. When we write, we have to do the same thing, spilling our soul onto the page and owning up to our own identity. Even as we say the words written by others over the millennia, it is in how we express them, much like how we combine the pre-existing vocabulary to tell our own stories, which draws us nearer to heaven. Writing, like reading, is a lonely and meditative act. When we write in a group, we end up with a text mashed together in committee with no soul of its own. When we abdicate personal responsibility to create, we are letting others pray on our behalf and hope that they can communicate our needs effectively. Donne's sonnets might have been written to inspire me, as a reader, but the religious act came to the fore through the process of Donne's writing.
So take some time, find a corner, close your eyes and write. Admit things you otherwise wouldn't, allow yourself to see what you usually don't. Control and command words to allow you to touch the uncontrollable. Understand what it feels like to bring things into being, starting with the calling into existence of your self.